Clicks20

MAGNIFICAT: THE ARTICLE OF THE MONTH IS THAT IN THE BIBLE? by Father Anthony Giambrone, O.P.

Irapuato
1
Forbidden Fruit and the Fruit of Faith One of the Bible stories that can be found hanging on art gallery walls is Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham from Genesis 16. One 17th-century version painted …More
Forbidden Fruit and the Fruit of Faith

One of the Bible stories that can be found hanging on art gallery walls is Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham from Genesis 16. One 17th-century version painted by Matthias Stom, and now displayed in Berlin’s Gemäldegalerie, captures the human drama with striking success. The nervous fright on the pretty young Hagar’s round face as she is ushered over in obedience to her mistress contrasts markedly with the gentle contentment of the wizened Sarai, who hands over the hesitant girl to her aged husband with calm assurance. Abram, sitting upon the bed with his sunken and sagging chest uncovered, stares at the maid with a fixed and already exhausted gaze. It does not take especial prudishness to wonder about the propriety of the scene.

At a historical level, commentators on this passage have observed the relevance of documents discovered in the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nuzi, dating from around 1500–1400 b.c., a community in precisely the same Hurrian milieu as Haran, where Abram sojourned. These records illustrate the unexceptional character of Sarai’s action in that far away time and place, where having an heir was so incredibly important and it was regular practice for sonless wives to give their husbands a servant for this purpose. The famous Babylonian Code of Hammurabi paints a similar picture.

But if the accepted social norms would have thus colored Sarai’s act in its historical context, where this couple was just behaving like all the others, the story in Genesis does not present a scene where all is well. The ethics demanded in the founding of Abram’s family are not the norms of human innovation and social convention, but radical belief in God’s radical promise. Something more is therefore transpiring when Hagar is handed to Abram by Sarai. The respectable but aged couple is making a great mistake, from which they must learn.

A hint of this is hidden in the Hebrew, where Abram is said literally to “listen to the voice” of Sarai (cf. Gn 16:2)—a phrase that only occurs elsewhere in Gn 3:17, speaking of Adam and Eve. The “taking” and “giving” language then applied to Hagar further recalls the key sequence in Gn 3:6. Hagar is taken and handed to Abram like the forbidden fruit that should not be tasted. Abram, moreover, should have known this, for when the Lord revealed in the preceding chapter that he would give him a son as heir, through whom all nations of the world would be blessed, the promise was made not to a healthy young married couple. And no instructions were given to exclude Sarai from the plan.

The point of the promise to these specific chosen parents is to build a family by the force of faith in supernatural power. Thus, Abram will later still be required to prove his faith as regards Isaac, his divinely given son and heir. And like old Zechariah’s doubt before the birth of John, this “fall” of Sarai and Abram ultimately serves to highlight the Blessed Virgin’s greater faith in a greater wonder: Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus (Lk 1:31).

Father Anthony Giambrone, o.p., is a Dominican priest of the Province of Saint Joseph and professor of the New Testament at the École biblique de Jérusalem.
Irapuato
Genesis, chapter 16

Birth of Ishmael.*
1Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children. Now she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar.www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
2Sarai said to Abram: “The LORD has kept me from bearing children. Have intercourse with my maid; perhaps I will have sons through her.” Abram obeyed Sarai. www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
3Thus, after Abram had lived …More
Genesis, chapter 16

Birth of Ishmael.*
1Abram’s wife Sarai had borne him no children. Now she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar.www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
2Sarai said to Abram: “The LORD has kept me from bearing children. Have intercourse with my maid; perhaps I will have sons through her.” Abram obeyed Sarai. www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
3Thus, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, his wife Sarai took her maid, Hagar the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
4He had intercourse with her, and she became pregnant. As soon as Hagar knew she was pregnant, her mistress lost stature in her eyes. www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
5www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16 So Sarai said to Abram: “This outrage against me is your fault. I myself gave my maid to your embrace; but ever since she knew she was pregnant, I have lost stature in her eyes. May the LORD decide between you and me!”
6Abram told Sarai: “Your maid is in your power. Do to her what you regard as right.” Sarai then mistreated her so much that Hagar ran away from her.

7The LORD’s angelwww.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16 found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur,www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
8and he asked, “Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She answered, “I am running away from my mistress, Sarai.”
9But the LORD’s angel told her: “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority.
10I will make your descendants so numerous,” added the LORD’s angel, “that they will be too many to count.”www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
11Then the LORD’s angel said to her:

“You are now pregnant and shall bear a son;

you shall name him Ishmael,www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16

For the LORD has heeded your affliction.

12He shall be a wild ass of a man,

his hand against everyone,

and everyone’s hand against him;

Alongsidewww.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16 all his kindred

shall he encamp.”www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16

13To the LORD who spoke to her she gave a name, saying, “You are God who sees me”;www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16 she meant, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after he saw me?”www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
14That is why the well is called Beer-lahai-roi.www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16 It is between Kadesh and Bered.

15Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram named the son whom Hagar bore him Ishmael.www.usccb.org/bible/genesis/16
16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

* [16:116] In the previous chapter Abraham was given a timetable of possession of the land, but nothing was said about when the child was to be born. In this chapter, Sarah takes matters into her own hands, for she has been childless ten years since the promise (cf. 12:4 with 16:16). The story is about the two women, Sarah the infertile mistress and Hagar the fertile slave; Abraham has only a single sentence. In the course of the story, God intervenes directly on the side of Hagar, for she is otherwise without resources.